How to Write And Deliver a Great Eulogy
For all the importance of the poet's relationship to his patron, he was not a closeted courtier but a public figure. The subject of encomiastic poetry, after all, wanted his praises to be heard as widely as possible. He sought fame and prestige by the liberality of his sacrifices, which meant feasts for crowds and a captive audience for his eulogies. And the tales of past heroes that the poet had to tell were interesting and beguiling to all.
Levertov continued her social activism in the 1980s and into the last years of her life. Her poetry in the 1980s began to foreground the interest in religious faith that became characteristic of her later work, but that was also one with the visionary emphasis in all of her poetry. Candles in Babylon (1982) illustrates the integration of many of her interests, since it includes poems on political action, a speech for an anti-draft rally, a eulogy of Williams, and also Mass for the Day of St. Thomas Didymus. Another direction in Levertov's work in these years was the broadening of her sense of heritage to include English and other European poets, especially Rilke, that her 1950s and 1960s poetry had given less attention to. She published three volumes of essays on such topics as her impressions of contemporaries, reflections on the challenge of teaching, the craft of writing, and the nature of political poetry.
As this king or noble was usually the patron of the sacrifice as well as of the poet, it often happened that he and the gods received their eulogies on the same occasion. Many of the Vedic hymns include praise of the patron. At the Asvamedha, as described in the Satapatha Brahmana (13. 1. 5. 6, 4. 2-3), priestly singers performed during the sacrifice and lauded the prince's sacrifices and liberality, and later in the evening the royal bard, accompanied on a zither or lute, 'sings three stanzas composed by himself (on such topics as) Such war he waged, Such battle he won '(13. 4. 3. 5, trs. J. Eggeling). The Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite, like the other hymns in the collection, contains no explicit reference to living persons, but it is generally inferred, from the narrative of the goddess's seduction of Anchises and the prediction of unending rule for his descendants in the Troad, that it was composed to glorify and please these claimed descendants it may have been performed at an...
The title poem is an expansive meditation in which a man finds consolation away from the crowds of mankind, in classic Romantic fashion, and this leaves him confronting the wild landscape of Callanan's native Cork. It is a strongly autobiographical poem, as Callanan also had a strong solitary streak. Moreover, the recluse of the title encounters a figure like himself who has taken ship to leave Ireland, as Callanan himself would in 1827, when he sailed for Lisbon. So far we are in the familiar territory mapped out by Shelley in Alastor or The Spirit of Solitude (1816), but the poem then picks up some of the ghostly resonances of the defeat of the Earl of Desmond in the sixteenth century. Whereas Shelley's landscape is emptied of historical meaning, Callanan makes the egotistic sublime contiguous to Irish history. It is a unique moment in Irish poetry before Yeats. The Irish struggle is then compared with the struggle for Greek independence, which naturally leads to a eulogy for Byron,...
Prior a gentleman of his bedchamber and supported the poet's study. Prior enjoyed the life of the courtier and assumed the title commissioner of trade. At the king's death Prior wrote the eulogy, Carmen Secolare (1700). Johnson wrote in his Lives of the English Poets that Prior made public the fact he had praised others in compliance with the fashion, but . . . in celebrating King William he followed his inclination.
Corresponds exactly in form to the Indic vacas-, which in the Rigveda can mean 'word, speech' but mostly refers to the pronouncements that make up the song, or to the song as a whole. The feminine vac- (corresponding to Latin uox) is used similarly, and there is another word from the same root meaning 'hymn', uktham.19 In Avestan a strophe of the Gathos was called a vacatasti-, literally a 'fashioning of the utterance'. Tocharian A waktasurne 'eulogy' and Old High German giwahan, giwahanen 'mention, tell of, giwaht 'fame, remembrance', give further hints of the use of this root in connection with formal or poetic utterance. Most remarkable is the Irish term anocht for a type of metrical fault it means literally 'not (to be) uttered', the counterpart of Vedic anukta-, and it must be a very ancient survival, as the *wekw root was defunct in Celtic.20
The problems that I have been outlining above all concern the notion that verse might operate as a metaphor for political ideology. Yet there are more straightforward relationships between the two spheres, in which we can discern causal links between the position of the poet in relation to the government of the day and his or her choice of poetic genre. To put it in the crudest terms, those who supported the political establishment tend to write panegyrics, verse eulogies on affairs of state or public figures, while those who opposed it wrote poetic satires criticizing the regime and mocking its supporters. In the period we are concerned with here, this is particularly evident in the decades between 1720 and 1740, which saw the political hegemony of the Whig party, in association with the Hanoverian monarchy. There is a large body of poetry by Whig writers in praise of contemporary political life, much of it in the form of elevated panegyric poetry on particular events. Writers like...
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